Quick Pot Pies to Die For: How to Make Individual Pies for a Family of Four

I can remember when I was a kid and I could hardly wait for the Stouffer’s chicken pot pies to come out of the oven after about 40 minutes—all browned on top and oozing down the sides of the mini aluminum pie pan with creamy goodness. I just wanted to devour the thing right when it came out of the oven but quickly learned it wasn’t worth burning my mouth off! I had to be patient. 

Now days I still crave the yumminess of a pot pie but for some reason, the frozen ones don’t appeal to me as much. Maybe it’s because the tiny aluminum pie tins were replaced with microwavable cardboard. Or maybe it’s the sheer number of calories and fat in them that I just can’t bring myself to splurge on.

Maybe, being a mom of two with a job and a household to manage, I really just don’t have the time to wait for them to bake and I refuse to microwave them! I don’t know. But what I do know is that I made my own several weeks ago and it was everything I wanted in a pot pie.
I have to say this recipe was a long time in the making. First, I knew I had to get four medium-sized ramekens that would hold four individual pies. I wanted each of us in the family to have our very own! I finally found those at a World Market store.
Next, I had to find some way to make a low-calorie version of the creamy sauce that defines a pot pie. The inspiration hit me when I remembered my husband’s favorite meal: Chicken baked in Campbell’s Healthy Request Cream of Chicken Soup. There are only 60 calories and 2 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving!
Then I needed to figure out if I wanted to make my own crust or not. That became a downright “no” when I finally picked up some Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust at the grocery store. Throw in a little frozen peas and carrots and I figured I could really pull this thing off!

This is my Chicken Pot Pie to Die For recipe:

Ingredients:
-Two large chicken breasts, cubed into one inch chunks
-One tablespoon of olive oil
-Two cans of Campbell’s Healthy Request Cream of Chicken Soup
-1 ½ cup of nonfat milk
-1/2 cup of frozen carrots and peas
-1 package of Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust, kept refrigerated
-1 egg, beaten
-Seasoned salt and pepper to taste
To start, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Next, season the cubed chicken in a bowl with seasoned salt and pepper and mix. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the chicken until brown on the outside and done in the center.
Then, add the two cans of cream of chicken soup to the pan along with the milk. Reduce the heat to simmer and stir the mixture. Then add the frozen peas and carrots. Place a lid on top and simmer for about five to eight minutes.
In the meantime, unroll both pieces of pie crust on a floured surface. Beat the egg in a bowl and set aside. Take a ramekan and place upside down toward the outer part of the crust, leaving about an inch and a half of crust outside the rim. Take a knife and cut around the circumference of the rim leaving an inch and a half around the whole circumference. Place the circle of dough aside.
Next, dip a pastry brush in the egg and brush onto the rim of the ramekan. Then fill the dish to the top with the chicken mixture and place the circle of dough on top of the dish and crimp the edges in an up-and-over style. It does not need to be perfect! Combine the scraps of dough and roll out flat again to create crusts for the remaining pies.
Cut a slit in the middle and brush egg lightly over the crust of each pie. Bake the pot pies on a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is brown and bubbly. Just the way I like it! And the kids love having their own pot pies to eat and digging right in.
This is definitely one of the comfort foods that takes me way back. All I would need now to transport me back in time is an episode of the Odd Couple and a TV tray! Okay, I’m dating myself.

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Roasted Pork Loin: An Intimate Valentine’s Day Dinner for Two

Planning a romantic Valentine’s Day evening can be tricky with two little ones. We tried to remember the other night if our babysitter had a boyfriend she might be spending the evening with. Would it be rude to ask her right before the holiday to sit with the kids? Then there is the issue of making dinner reservations far enough in advance and of course, the cost of dinner. Believe me, it’s a holiday we would definitely consider splurging on. With a seven- and four-year-old, we’re realizing how important it is to grasp every moment we can to embrace our time as a couple!

However, this year I think we’ve decided to have a romantic dinner at home after the kids have gone to bed (always the best time for the possibility for at least a little romance!). And I have the perfect dish in mind–a one-pot roasted pork loin with apples and veggies and a honey, horseradish and balsamic sauce. 
Preparing a pork loin that is juicy and tender has only been a recent achievement for me. I don’t know why, but pork loin intimidated me and I think it was because I didn’t have a solid method for cooking it. Now, I have a tried-and-true method that is so good! 
First, I usually skip the regular grocery store brands and go for the pork loins from Trader Joe’s. They’re a little smaller and a less intimidating in my opinion. Each one is a about a pound and easily feeds two people. This is my new fool-proof recipe for roasted pork loin with apples and veggies. It makes a great no-fuss Valentine’s Day dinner or a satisfying comfort meal any time of year: 
Ingredients: 
-1-pound pork loin (a little over a pound will still work)
-2 tart red apples, quartered
-2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced 
-1/2 yellow onion cut into big chunks
-10 baby carrots
-1 green zucchini, diced 
-1 stalk of celery, cut into bite-sized pieces (optional)
-Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1 tablespoon horseradish
-1 1/2 tablespoons honey
-1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar 
-1 tablespoon garlic powder
-Seasoned salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
First, you will need a skillet or dutch oven with a lid that can be transferred from the stove top to the oven. I like to use my stainless steel pan because it’s great for achieving some great browning of the meat. 
Next, cut all of your veggies before starting to cook the meat, place into a big bowl, toss with one tablespoon olive oil and season with half of the garlic powder, seasoned salt and pepper.
When all of your ingredients are ready, season the pork loin with one tablespoon of the garlic powder and a generous amount of seasoned salt and pepper on all sides. Then heat your skillet to medium high with one tablespoon of olive oil and add the pork when the pan is sizzling hot. Sear the meat until browned on all sides. After the meat is caramelized on all sides, add the veggies around the pork in the pan and lightly toss. 
Transfer the whole skillet without a lid to a preheated oven onto the middle rack. Cooking time will be about 35 to 40 minutes if you would like to set a timer. When there is 15 minutes of cooking time remaining, add a lid to the skillet. Remove skillet from oven with oven mitts when cooking time is finished and it should look about like this! 
Transfer the pork to a serving plate and cover with foil. Be careful when touching the lid, it’s HOT! Transfer the veggies to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon and cover with foil, leaving the remaining juices in the pan. 
Heat the juices on the stove top over medium heat. Add the horseradish, honey and balsamic vinegar to the pan and stir with a whisk. Allow sauce to thicken and turn off the heat. Then, slice the pork loin into two inch medallions and arrange the apples and veggies nicely around the meat on the plate. Drizzle sauce over the top of the meat. Bring the plate to the table and enjoy this healthy, lean, comforting meal at a hopefully quiet and romantically-set table. And oh, don’t forget the red wine!

Ravioli With Pesto Cream Sauce for National Pasta Day

It’s National Pasta Day today and in honor of the occasion, here is an easy recipe for ravioli with pesto cream sauce that I made the other night, which is a true keeper!

I’m always on the lookout for ingredients at the grocery store that I can dress up and make into a low-cost, semi-gourmet meal that the whole family enjoys. This week, I chose a frozen bag of store-brand mini cheese ravioli for about $5. I also grabbed some fresh pesto sauce that I could use with the dish and for other tasty meals and snacks during the rest of the week.

There is something so comforting about ravioli–they’re like mini packages filled with a cheesy surprise inside. And when combined with a creamy, basil and garlic pesto sauce this dish is a satisfying meal sure to please even the pickiest eaters.

I’ve found that mini ravioli is a good choice for the kids. It’s a perfect bite for them and easy to either stab with a fork or pick up by hand to devour. But the best thing about these little pasta gems is that they cook so quickly! I like to add a little broccoli too to this dish to round it out into a complete meal.

This is all you need to do:

Gather the ingredients:
-1 pound of frozen mini cheese ravioli
-3 tablespoons of pesto
-1 cup of broccoli flowerets
-3/4 cup of 2% milk
-1 tablespoon of flour
-1/4 cup of cold water
-Shredded Parmesan cheese
-Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a sauce pot (that coordinates with a steamer pot on top) of water to a boil. Add the broccoli to the steamer and place on top of the boiling water with the lid on top. Let the broccoli steam for about three minutes until it is bright green. Then, remove the steamer pot of broccoli and set aside to combine with the ravioli later.

Add the ravioli to the boiling water, stir and let boil for the recommended amount of time. While the ravioli are cooking, add the pesto sauce to a large skillet on medium heat and allow it to start cooking a bit. Add the flour to the cold water and whisk until there are no lumps. The mixture will be used to thicken the sauce. Next, add the milk to the pesto sauce in the skillet and whisk until combined. Bring to a light boil. Then add enough of the water/flour mixture to the sauce to thicken it to the consistency your prefer. Add salt and pepper to suite your taste. Then all you need to do is drain the ravioli and add it along with the broccoli to the skillet, add a handful of parmesan cheese and toss. Manga!

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Flat Bread Pizza In a Flash

                                                                                               

Flat bread pizza is a family favorite for us. In fact, when my husband and I feel like a “happy hour” experience on a Friday night but don’t have a babysitter, we head out to a local chain restaurant with the kids and order two or three flat bread pizzas on the cheap and have a Friday night feast (with a little “happy” glass of wine for each of us on the side!).

There is something so appealing and simple about flat bread pizza. Of course, it’s all about the crust. Thin and crispy and so easy to eat for the kids. Topped with simple ingredients such as olive oil, garlic, thinly-sliced tomato and basil, this treat can be eaten for lunch, as a snack or for dinner.

The trick for me was how I would go about making the crust. Until I ran into packaged flat breads at the store! These gems come in all varieties and when I saw them I opted for the whole grain, low-fat, low-calorie kind. They are only 90 calories per flat bread and they’re pretty darn big!

So today, I couldn’t resist making a pizza for lunch. I’m trying to cut some calories, so instead of starting off with basting the whole flat bread with olive oil I opted for spraying both sides with Pam spray to get the crisp I wanted. Here’s what else I did:

-Heat the oven to 450 degrees

-Gather ingredients:
 -One Roma tomato, very thinly sliced
 -Six leaves of basil from the garden, chopped
 -One clove of garlic minced
 -A handful of mozzarella cheese
 -A sprinkle of shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
 -A sprinkle of crushed red pepper
 -Salt and pepper to taste

After spraying both sides of the flat bread with Pam spray, I spread the minced garlic evenly over the entire surface of one side of the bread. Next, I sprinkled on the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in addition to the basil. Then I placed the thinly-sliced tomatoes around the pizza, sprinkled with salt and pepper and placed it onto a sheet pan in the oven for no more than 10 minutes. Make sure to check often because it bakes so fast and could burn! After removing from the oven I sprinkled some crushed red pepper on top, cut into four slices and indulged in a small piece of heaven! And overall, this lunch was probably no more than 200 calories! That’s what I’m talking about! And now I think we might have Friday night “Happy Hour” at home this week.

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Mini Tostada Night: Bring the Family to the Table!

I’ve written before about my undying love for tostadas! The combination of crunchy from the tostada shell with the creaminess of refried beans or spiciness of beef or chicken–all mixed with the coolness of lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream! It’s more than food, it’s an experience! And why not involve the whole family in making this classic Mexican dish by gathering them around the table for a weeknight or weekend family dinner experience?
I’ve seen television food shows featuring little stands in Mexico that rock classic tostadas made from ingredients that span decades of Mexican family recipes. Some are topped with civeche, a lime-cured fish, or other exotic ingredients like cactus or squid. When it comes to the kids and family night, I like to keep things a little more simple.
Our family tostada night several weekends ago consisted of store-bought mini tostada shells, which are already fried, and a plethora of mini bowls spread around the table filled with toppings including cubed grilled chicken, steaming hot canned refried-style beans, shredded cheddar cheese, diced tomato, shredded lettuce, sour cream and salsa. Now that the kids are almost 4 and 7 and can use spoons to scoop up food and place it carefully onto their plates (or in this case tostadas), it was easy to call everyone to the table and create our own tostada masterpieces–and our own family experience! My suggested ingredient list for this crunchy, cool dinnertime experience includes:

-One package of pre-fried tostada shells (I prefer the authentic Mexican brands if you can find them)
-Four seasoned, grilled chicken breasts cut into half-inch cubes

-One small can of refried beans (I like the nonfat-type seasoned with lime since you can’t tell the difference between this type and the type with tons of fat!)

-Half a head of romain lettuce, shredded

-Three tomatoes, diced

-One package of shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

-Sour cream
-Green or red salsa
Lay out all of the ingredients in a family-style setting at your dinner table and dig in! The kids like to feel like they’re making their own dinner and have so much fun in the process. Watch out, it can get messy! But that’s okay! Throw in a “how did your day go today?” and you’ve got a traditional sit-down dinner that brings your family that much closer.

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It’s Fish Taco Night!

Have you ever thought about the things you could do with an ordinary fish stick or even fancier frozen fish like beer-battered halibut? What about making fish tacos out of them? Why not! Fish sticks aren’t just for kids anymore.

Now days, people are pretty familiar with fish tacos since many chain fast-food restaurants include them on their menus. They usually consist of battered fish inside a flour or corn tortilla, shredded cabbage and a creamy dressing with salsa on the side. How much easier does it get?

Here’s what we did last night for our fish taco extravaganza with the following ingredients:

-One package of good frozen, battered halibut filets (you could use frozen grilled fish too)
-One package of flour tortillas (taco size)
-One head of regular cabbage
-1/4 cup of lite mayo
-1/4 cup of lite sour cream
-One lime
-Siracha hot sauce
-Any type of salsa (green or red) that you like

First, I pulled some frozen battered halibut filets out of the freezer and started baking them according to the directions while the kids jumped up and down on the couch, begged for snacks and asked if I wanted to watch magic tricks. Once I told them to stop jumping, gently denied the snacks and watched two magic tricks (performed by no other than my six-year-old son who is infatuated with magic and on the prowl for unsuspecting spectators), I started to cut up the cabbage so that it is thinly shredded–enough for five or six tacos.

Next is the sauce. I thought I’d get a little creative and copy the technique of one of my favorite sushi restaurants by adding siracha hot sauce to a combination of lite mayo and lite sour cream. Just a squirt will do but if you like it hot go for it! Add a little lime juice and some salt and pepper and you’re ready to go. You could forgo the hot sauce and add a little lemon pepper or just plain lime juice and season with salt and pepper or even paprika.

Then all you have to do is assemble the tacos by placing the crispy, hot fish on one side of a tortilla, topping with the shredded cabbage and sauce and pouring on some salsa. Don’t forget to squirt on a little lime–that’s a tradition here in Southern California. Then fold them up and enjoy! Meal done.

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My Go-To Meal: Lite Kielbasa Stir Fry Pasta

Packaged kielbasa is good for so many reasons and occasions. My father just cuts it up cold and eats it with some crackers and slices of cheese. For a long time I thought you had to cook it before you ate it but certain brands are fully cooked. The thing that’s great about the packaged kind, is that one whole kielbasa will feed all four of us (don’t think it’ll stay that way for long, though as the kids get older and chow down a lot more food!). So that means about $5 for a one-pot meal for four, more or less, and a couple bucks for spaghetti and some veggies to throw in.

Anyway, I like the lite kielbasa and have just recently discovered that the lite turkey kielbasa is really good too and has way less fat and calories. The spices in this type of Polish sausage are what I like the most. It must be the Polish in me. My father was adopted and raised by Polish immigrant parents in a small town in Nebraska and the most wonderful food aromas would waft out of his extended families’ kitchens. I can remember the smell of pickled vegetables, especially cucumbers, that they would keep down in the cool basement. The smell saturated the house and had a sort of calming effect on me as a child. The smell and sense of home. Anyway, this sausage has lots of garlic and spices that attract even children to dig in (think dressed up hot dog!).

If I need a less-expensive and time-consuming option during the week, I grab a package of lite kielbasa on my weekend shopping trip and make this quick stir fry spaghetti dish.

Here are the ingredients:

-One package of lite kielbasa, cut into thin bite-sized pieces
-1/2 to 3/4 pound of spaghetti
-One stalk of celery, cut into bite sized pieces
-Half a head of broccoli cut into small florets
-One carrot, grated
-Soy sauce
-One tablespoon of vegetable of olive oil

Start by bringing a pot of salted water to boil for the spaghetti. If you have a stacked steamer, add the broccoli to the top of the top so that it steams a bit before adding it to the stir fry. Or boil the broccoli for a few minutes before adding the pasta and set the veggies aside in a bowl. In a big frying pan, heat the oil on medium-high heat and add the cut up kielbasa. Stir around until the sausage starts to brown a bit.

Next, add the spaghetti to the boiling water and stir. Then add all of the veggies to the frying pan with the kielbasa. Keep stirring to soften the veggies until al dente (still have some crispness left) and add salt and pepper to your liking. At the very end, add about two tablespoons of soy sauce to the pan and reduce the heat. Drain your spaghetti and add the pasta directly to the frying pan. Turn the heat up a bit and mix together all the ingredients until the pasta has absorbed some of the liquid.

I usually cut up the spaghetti a bit for the little ones. They love slurping the pasta up and as long as I call broccoli “trees” they eat that too! So there you have it. A pasta dish with meat, veggies and pasta all in one quick dish for about $5.

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